Robert Fisk: Gun battles as Hizbollah claims Lebanon is at war

Share
Related Topics

If you want to fight us, you'll have to fight us. This was Sayed Hassan Nasrallah's message to the Lebanese government yesterday and his words were followed within seconds by two massive gun battles in the streets of Beirut.

He had spoken in that careful, thought-through, distressing way in which he always threatens the Hizbollah's enemies. He even swapped the names of the Lebanese Prime Minister, Fouad Siniora, with that of the Druze leader Walid Jumblatt – calling Jumblatt the real prime minister and Siniora his deputy – and blamed both for trying to set up a CIA-Mossad base at Beirut airport. What other reason could there be, he asked, for the two men to demand the dismantlement of Hizbollah's communications system and the suspension of the head of airport security? This was "a Lebanese government declaration of war against the resistance". Well, maybe. But Nasrallah still wants the Hizbollah's enemies to be the Israelis – not his Lebanese opponents.

So what happened in the minutes after he spoke? At least one Shia Amal gunman started shooting at an office belonging to Sunni supporters of the government, some of whom may have been the youths apparently brought down from Tripoli for just such a battle. The Lebanese army was not fully engaged on the streets last night but its armoured vehicles were driving between the sectarian interfaces and apparently taking fire from both sides.

It was a dark and distressing speech by the secretary general of Hizbollah, which came less than 24 hours after the Grand Mufti, Mohammed Kabbani, furiously referred to the Hizbollah as "armed gangs of outlaws that have carried out the ugliest attacks against the citizens and their safety". Needless to say, neither Nasrallah nor Kabbani stated the obvious – that the first represents a large number of the Shia Muslim community and the second most of the Sunnis.

The sectarian background to this dangerous game is the point, of course. The street battles in Beirut are between Shia and Sunni, the first supporting the Iranian-armed Hizbollah, the second the Lebanese government, which now regularly carries the sobriquet "American-backed". In other words, the collapse of Beirut these past two days is part of the American-Iranian conflict – even though, be sure, the Americans will blame the Hizbollah for this and the Iranians will blame the Americans.

Yet still the language of Nasrallah – like that of Kabbani – was frightening, even though he had behind him the national flag of Lebanon with its green cedar tree as well as Hizbollah's own yellow banner. To call Jumblatt "a liar, a thief, a killer..." – though this view might be heartily reciprocated by Jumblatt himself – is language that puts Lebanese in danger of their lives.

Nasrallah's complaint that the suspension of Wafiq Chucair as head of airport security was part of an American-Israeli plot might sound a bit much, but his long and point-by-point insistence that Hizbollah should maintain its new communications links – including its cameras along the Beirut airport perimeter – was perhaps more reasoned, albeit that it helps allow his organisation to remain part of a state with the state. Wireless communications can easily be tapped, he said, and he added that new communications were the "most powerful tool" in Hizbollah's 2006 war against Israel.

Nasrallah intriguingly pointed out that Siniora's government had previously told the Hizbollah that it would allow the secure communications circuits to remain if the movement closed down its largely empty "tent city" in the centre of Beirut. Indeed, it has largely been in place for more than a year. Hizbollah had no argument with the Lebanese army – a view that might not be shared by General Michel Sulaiman, its commander, who stated yesterday that the situation is "threatening the army's impartiality".

All of which continues Lebanon's crisis. Beirut airport remained largely empty of aircraft yesterday – the Christian daily L'Orient Le Jour rightly suggested that it had been taken hostage by Hizbollah, who control all roads to the terminal – and there were brief gun battles between government and opposition supporters in the Bekaa Valley town of Saadnayel. Yet again, burning tyres were set up in areas demarcating Shia and Sunni districts, and the army closed the Corniche Mazraa highway, which divides west Beirut. By last night it was the scene of a gun battle. Kuwait urged its citizens to leave Lebanon – without being obliging enough to tell them exactly how to perform this task without an airport.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
With an eye for strategy: Stephen Fry’s General Melchett and Rowan Atkinson’s Edmund Blackadder  

What Cameron really needs is to turn this into a khaki election

Matthew Norman
An Italian policeman stands guard as migrants eat while waiting at the port of Lampedusa to board a ferry bound for Porto Empedocle in Sicily. Authorities on the Italian island of Lampedusa struggled to cope with a huge influx of newly-arrived migrants as aid organisations warned the Libya crisis means thousands more could be on their way  

Migrant boat disaster: EU must commit funds to stop many more dying

Alistair Dawber
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own